The reality of war is not welcome

Geoffrey Heard writes: Re “Welcome home not so easy” (yesterday). I seem to remember years ago, Margaret Thatcher had a Westminster Abbey or St Paul’s thanksgiving service for the Falklands. Fit and healthy veterans of that campaign were welcome, the names of the dead were welcome, the incapacitated walking or in wheelchairs were not welcome and not catered for. Looks as though Abbott has been reading his Thatcher guide again.

On data retention

Bernard Holkner writes: Re. “Your guide to the data retention debate: what it is and why it’s bad” (yesterday). Thanks for your continued and thoughtful coverage of the data retention debates. The point that appears to be missed is that the new structures will not operate in the traditional way.  We assume that the AFP, ASIC and other authorised agencies will start an investigation when alerted by interested parties. The greatest risk is that the continuously growing datasets will be automatically and continuously mined by computers. We can expect that agencies and authorised individuals will be able to add their own search criteria to these computers at will.  Indeed we can be sure that “fishing expeditions” into the databases will be rife and just left running to alert the agency when something interesting crops up.

Note also that the searches are likely to be operated from bureaucrats’ or police workstations which are logged in to the (meta) databases. Here are inherent risks in the secure practices of people routinely trawling the data.  Similarly, there is demonstrated poor practice by agencies and other organisations  in protecting data. If I could mock up an example search it might read: “Ok computer, attach to all ISPs and Telcos. Alert to any activities involving (list of people by IP address) where any phrase (list of interest phrases) is communicated. Sort by time and report.  Run this query continuously.” Now this is trivial example considering the sophisticated capabilities of search engines, but I use this to illustrate the raw beginning to a surveillance-accusation-without-appeal society that we appear to be designing.

As a concluding point, I invite you to consider the implications of this monitoring when so called benign datasets of citizens’ CityLink traffic movements, newspapers read, media sites frequented, and purchases are included. Metadata under software scrutiny will expose more people to assumptions of guilt because it operates on the assumption of guilt.  The communications content isn’t necessary for this kind of surveillance. It’s no wonder that agencies with an interest in people’s behaviour see data retention as “essential”.  It will completely change the ways that they work and save them a fortune.

A trifecta of British pompsity

Nic Maclellan writes: Re. “Rundle: the Tony Abbott guide to cock-ups in three easy steps” (yesterday).  I think we have a trifecta from our English-born PM. Who could forget his comments before the referendum on Scottish independence: “I think that the people who would like to see the break-up of the United Kingdom are not the friends of justice, the friends of freedom, and the countries that would cheer at the prospect … are not the countries whose company one would like to keep.” (Nearly 45 per cent of Scotland’s population, obviously enemies of freedom, voted to get rid of Westminster’s yoke, in the largest referendum turnout in the UK since universal suffrage was introduced). As Rundle suggests, his St Pat’s day message reminds us that Irish jokes are a low form of humour. And surely that unrelenting assault on a Welsh lass named Julia counts as number three in the series. I look forward to the PM calling David Cameron a Pommy bastard at the next Commonwealth meeting.